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Luke McCaffrey leaped into the arms of a teammate.

He got in a celebratory handshake and hug with sophomore wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and reveled in helping Nebraska get its first win of the season Saturday against Penn State.

“The whole experience was great,” McCaffrey told reporters Monday after the 30-23 triumph. “Any time you win and can learn from a victory, it's such a different feeling and such a different vibe. To be able to do that is something that we’re thankful for, and we’ll pursue that feeling every week.”

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The redshirt freshman quarterback couldn’t have begun his first start much better, completing 4 of 5 passes for 45 yards and gaining 24 yards on three carries — the last a 1-yard touchdown plunge — on Nebraska’s first drive of the day.

By the end, McCaffrey had relatively modest passing numbers at 13-of-21 for 152 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The touchdown was a fly sweep in which he pitched the ball forward to freshman receiver Zavier Betts. The interception came on a chance at a big play, except he was hit hard as he threw a wheel route for tight end Austin Allen, causing the ball to pop straight up in the air.

He also added a game-best 67 rushing yards and the short score. 

In between, a lot of promise and a lot of room for improvement.

“There’s always an ability to just kind of make things a little cleaner from the quarterback’s standpoint,” McCaffrey said. “Just run a little more efficiently and so that’s one (thing to improve). You know, we had some guys go down and some guys switching positions during the game, but being able to crisp it up a little bit more and get a little bit more pre-snap and key-zone read.”

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Not surprisingly, given the way head coach Scott Frost and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco have talked about the Highlands Ranch, Colorado, native over the past 18 months, he handled the review of his first full game as expected.

“You can't take it any better,” Frost said. “Luke is the type of kid that lives in the office. Always watching film, always trying to get better. So he takes coaching as constructive criticism and he wants it. He wants to continue to improve and that's the type of people that you want to coach.”

Frost and Verduzco in the past have emphasized that they recruit athletic players for the position and, as such, they do not want to sap guys of the creativity that makes them special. Two examples jump to mind regarding McCaffrey and Penn State. On Nebraska’s very first third-down try, a third-and-10 following a false start penalty, McCaffrey had a designed quarterback run that was meant to go up the middle. He saw the defense account for it, though, bounced to his left, stepped around a tackle attempt from Shaka Toney, a very talented PSU defensive end with a future in the NFL, and picked up 12 yards before stepping out of bounds.

Later, he absorbed a hit on another third-down try and shoveled the ball with his left hand to freshman running back Marvin Scott, who scooted up the sideline for 14 yards and a first down.

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“I'm OK with it because it worked,” Frost said with a smile. “I told him this morning, you never want to curtail their creative ability as football players, but you just have to know when to do those things and when not to and be smart with the football.

“Several of our quarterbacks have the ability to make plays. You just have to be disciplined when doing those things and make sure they don't turn into negative plays.”

That’s the challenge for McCaffrey going forward: Continue to tap into the athleticism and creativity that makes him such a compelling player, while also converting the simple plays and operating within the framework of the offense at an increasingly consistent clip.

“When it comes to evaluation, I consider myself my harshest critic,” McCaffrey said. “Moving forward, there's things that need to be cleaned up and things that need to be continued so that the efficiency will continue to grow.”

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.